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Early Snow Surprises Colorado

A powerful snowstorm cut electrical power for thousands of people, slowed the morning rush and triggered rock slides along a foothills highway Monday, a day after dumping up to 20 inches of snow in the mountains.

"This autumn snow storm is bringing the heavy wet stuff that Coloradans are not used to. We're more accustomed to the Colorado champagne powder," reports CBS News correspondent Lee Frank.

Dozens of schools across the state canceled classes or started late. At least three Denver schools closed because they had no electricity.

"I'm not going outside this morning," said Veronica Burke, associate manager of the Village Inn restaurant in Monument, near the 7,400-foot-high summit of Monument Hill between Denver and Colorado Springs.

Frank did venture out for a drive.

"It's a slow-go through the snow with the slushy stuff all over the roadways, and people not fully prepared for wintertime here in the Rockies. Many people have not put on their snow tires yet, so are driving on their summer tires," he reports. "They are taking their time, and there are quite a few accidents on the major thoroughfares around Colorado."

The wind was blowing so hard it was hard to tell how much snow had fallen, she said.

Xcel Energy spokesman Tom Henley said the storm cut off power to 25,000 homes and businesses in southeast and southwest Denver when power lines snapped and transformers failed.

Crews were out in force, Henley said, but there was no word on when electricity would be back on.

Slavens elementary school in southeast Denver sent students home with parents after the power failed before classes got under way. Fewer than half a dozen students remained at the school because their parents couldn't be reached.

"We have no power so we have no heat on right at this time," principal Greta Martinez said.

Tom Hartman was shoveling snow outside the Schlessman Family YMCA in southeast Denver Monday morning when transformers began to crackle and die.

"You could hear them popping," said Hartman, the Y's membership director. "It was a pretty loud popping noise."

About 2,000 homes and businesses in the mountain town of Breckenridge lost power Sunday but were back online by Monday morning, Henley said.

Steady rain sent two rock slides tumbling onto Colorado 119 in Boulder Canyon northwest of Denver, forcing the closure of one lane and damaging a car. No one was hurt.

In southwestern Colorado, rain was believed to have triggered two rock slides in San Miguel County Sunday, including one that shut down one lane of Colorado 145 near Telluride. No injuries were reported, sheriff's officials said.

The slow-moving system was expected to park over much of the state through Tuesday.

Westbound Interstate 70 between Copper Mountain and Vail Pass was closed for 2½ hours late Sunday after multiple accidents, prompting the American Red Cross to open a shelter for stranded travelers in Silverthorne.

Earlier Sunday, traffic crawled on eastbound I-70 approaching the Eisenhower Tunnel as several tractor-trailers jackknifed.

A fire broke out near Keystone after the heavy, wet snow helped bring down a power line but it was quickly put out. Tree limbs and winds downed other lines in the mountains, causing sporadic outages, Henley said.said.

The weather led the state transportation department to close Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, and chains were required on commercial vehicles at Loveland Pass, Vail Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel.

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